Of course most of us know this story: Jonah and the “big fish.” Don’t worry, I’m not going to take sides in the “Whale vs. Great Fish” debate. I’m not really sure that matters. But what does matter is that God used something that Jonah thought was surely his demise to save him.
Let’s review the story: God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach a message of repentance. Now, Ninevah isn’t exactly Disneyland. It’s a rough place known for it’s rampant sin and debauchery. Jonah didn’t exactly jump with excitement at the idea of going to Ninevah and calling these people out in their sin. Who knows what may happen to him? So he did what many of us would probably do: he ran away.
Ever done that? Sensed God calling you one way and head (quickly) in the opposite direction? Yeah, that never happens to me either…
So on the way to Tarshish (the opposite direction as Ninevah), a really nasty storm pops up and the good ship and crew are in peril. The crew starts to throw cargo over the side to lighten the load. Jonah is (amazingly) sleeping during this whole thing, until he’s awaked by the ship’s captain asking him to pray to his “god” to calm the storm and save them (apparently these weren’t all good, God-fearing men on board…plus they were desperate so prayers to any god would do).
The men casts lots (Kinda like rolling dice to find out something about someone. Isn’t that weird? It seems to happen a lot in the Bible…and it usually works! Go figure…) and they determine that Jonah is the one causing the turmoil. He tells them if they throw him overboard the storm will stop and they will be saved. At first they don’t buy it. But after all their efforts have failed, they pray a quick “God forgive us” and throw ol’ Jonah into the violent sea. Immediately the waves subside and the storm stops. (Side note: the passage implies that these guys fear God after this incident, and who wouldn’t? Imagine throwing a guy into the water and the giant wave pool just shuts down. That’d get my attention.)
Now here’s where the story gets interesting. The next verse says “the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). I just love how matter-of-fact that is. Yeah, no big deal, just hanging in the belly of a fish…for three days and three nights. But just take a second and think about what must have been going through Jonah’s head.
He had just walked the plank off the side of a ship into a giant sea-sized jacuzzi. He’s gotta be thinking, “Well, now I’ve done it. I disobeyed God and now I’m going to die.” And I’m sure his assessment of the situation didn’t change much when a HUGE fish swallows him whole. At that point he’s thinking it’s over for sure. (Ever thought that? “I’ve messed up one too many times. Now I’m done for.” Not so with God.)
But what does the verse tell us? It tells us that God provided a great fish to swallow him. The thing that he thought was his death sentence was the saving hand of a loving (and patient) God. Not only was this dark fish belly a great place for Jonah to do some thinking and praying (which is what led him to the sequel: Call to Ninevah: Part 2 – and this time he got the point and said yes to God), but it may have been the only way he could have made it back to shore safely. I’m guessing Jonah didn’t do much long-distance swimming before he made the trip.
So the insight is this: Sometimes the things we think are the end are just the beginning. The things we’re sure will kill us can end up saving us. The darkness we face, the things that are cramped, smelly, and a little bit scary, end up being the things we needed most. Sure it’s cheesy, but God is interested in our growth more than our comfort. And fish-belly doesn’t sound very comfortable (Unless Jonah could speak whale).
So take heart if you’re in a tough spot. Hold on to what you know is true of God. He is providing a way to save you in ways you may not understand.